Speaking to the news media can always be a tricky business, especially if you are not an official government communicator, former journalist, or have other expertise in the area of media relations and strategic communications. Therefore, these tips should be useful if and when you must face the “Beast” — particularly, if you’re conducting your first interview. So before you get thrown to the proverbial wovles, the following tips should help you to better prepare and conduct formal media interviews with broadcast news outlets and online media (in coordination with your agency’s office of communications and public affairs, of course).
How to prepare for a media interview…
1) Agree to the angle/focus of the interview prior to conducting it.
You can/should request a pre-interview phone call for TV and radio interviews. You can even request advance questions, however, some reporters will refuse to provide them.
2) If there is no pre-interview, then provide background information to the journalist before the interview, as a preface to the points you plan on making. This may help to deflect negative/loaded questions in advance and set the stage to present your case.
3) Think about likely questions (if not provided in advance) and answers. What points and counter-points do you want to make? What headline do you want coming out of it?
4) Draft talking points with two or three major points.Putting your points down on paper will serve as a reference during/after the interview and enhance your focus.
5) Gather statistics and/or anecdotes (proof points) to support your talking points.
6) Establish a rapport with the interviewer. Find out some personal information about the journalist. How long have they been with the news outlet? What was the last story he/she reported on? Any sincere praise or recognition you can offer will often smooth relations. Perhaps there are some common interests you share or related personal background items (where you grew up, went to school, etc.).
7) Practice, practice, practice. If time permits, rehearse your answers and do a mock interview with a co-worker or colleague.
What to remember during the interview…
8) You are in control of the interview. Don’t let the reporter dictate the agenda. Deflect questions you don’t want to answer by reiterating your main points (repetition is key). If you don’t want to answer a negative/loaded question, then don’t answer it – or respond with a deflecting statement, such as those listed below; then repeat your key talking points and proof points (data/anecdotes).
* “Let’s look at this issue from a broader perspective…”
* “There is an equally important concern…”
* “Let’s not forget the underlying problem..”
* “That point may have some validity, however…”
9) Keep in mind that you can/should ask that a question be restated if it’s unclear, or to gain a few more seconds to formulate your answer. You can also give your answer a second time (and that answer should be used) – as new thoughts and points may surface as the interview progresses. To repeat or expand on an answer already given, use some of the following phrases:
* “In addition to what I noted before…”
* “On second thought, let me provide a more complete response…”
* “Please scratch what I said earlier, what I meant was…”
* “Let’s go over your second question again. I want to point out that…”
10) Maintain eye contact with either the interviewer (preferably) or the camera — but not both. Do not glance back and forth or shift your eyes from side to side, maintain focus and appear confident, calm and cool.
“Media Relations: Don’t Comment with ‘No Comment’ “
“Talking to Reporters: Ten Tips”
“Media Relations: Shaping the Story”
* As always, all views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only.